I left the film vaguely disturbed. I understand the intellectual argument made in the film by Jenison and David Hockney -- that genius comes in all forms and that there is no intellectual difference between using mathematical formulas and other aids to perceiving perspective, and the technique uncovered by Jenison which almost certainly was the method by which Vermeer painted his work.
Vermeer's use of light is legendary. While I always considered Vermeer's paintings cold, especially as compared to painters like Rembrandt or Velasquez, I admired their luminosity -- and they had always seemed to me like photographs. As Jenison showed in the film, this is very likely what they were: 17th century photographs, made possible by optics. Jenison created -- or re-created -- a lens and mirror system inspired by the camera obscura. With the help of a convex shaving-type mirror, he achieved a level of clarity of projection that made possible a duplicate of Vermeer's "The Music Lesson." (left - the original).
In the film, there's a remarkable moment where Jenison realizes that while he's laid out the straight horizontal bars of the virginal (the musical instrument at which the young woman is standing), the curved mirror he is using causes a visual curvature in the complex dolphin scrollwork. Jenison notices there's such a "flaw" in the original painting and corrects it in his version. I'm familiar with the painting and had noticed before that the scrollwork wasn't "perfect" -- one of the parts of it that I most liked. Before the movie.
Tim's Vermeer is a documentation of an heroic effort -- the most enjoyable parts of the film to me were watching Jenison grind pigments and make paint, or laboriously grinding his own 17th-century quality lens. He uses every technology at his disposal to recreate Vermeer's studio in Texas. I was even willing to put up with Penn Jillette's skeptic blather and painted fingernail (yes, I know why he's always done that and I do love Penn) during these fascinating segments. I laughed when Jenison sawed his lathe in half because it was two inches too short to turn the legs of the Spanish chair. "I'm not a woodworker," said Jenison. "But you just can't buy chairs like this anywhere." So - he made it.
I think the film bothered me so much because they did nail it. There's no question Vermeer painted with the aid of optics, and very likely, something similar to the system Jenison created. There is no sign of sketching or underpainting with Vermeer's paintings. That alone shows that something else was at play other than the traditional methods of the other Dutch masters. Several other signs of use of optics are shown throughout the film. Once even one of these is shown, it becomes obvious to anyone who's ever painted.
Which Jenison had not. He's creating "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" using optical techniques and equipment. A British scientist is called in to explain various limits in human visual perception. David Hockney, whose work I've never much cared for, lends art expertise -- Hockney's book proposing that Vermeer used optical aids to paint was one of the inspirations for the massive undertaking.
So I'll say one thing about the film. I now like David Hockney. Watching him smoke and pontificate and drive and smoke and pontificate was a huge pleasure.
This is a film about maker obsession first, and art, second.
Now to me, Vermeer's work looks colder than it ever had. I can admire the genius of setting up the system to reproduce accurately beyond mere human sight. I can admire a man who was smart enough to make himself a 17th century photographer. I can admire the patient meticulousness and watchmaker's eye and hand of both Vermeer and his 21st century counterpart, Tim Jenison.
I have seen in-person several Rembrandts. These immediately strike the eye -- after 400 years -- the person is looking out at you. And these were not painted with the aid of any optics other than eye or hand.
I have seen in person several paintings by the man I call "the Master," John Singer Sargent. Sargent painted enough closer to our time that we know how he worked. Not with mirrors and lenses.
In Sargent, I think I see the idealized person or their inner nature looking back. Sargent's paintings are also larger than life, so they have the full impression that the clients of this portrait painter of the wealthy chose to make.
"The Daughters of Edward D. Boit" (1882) John Singer Sargent.
"Lady Agnew" (1893), John Singer Sargent.
And of course, it's hard to pick a favorite, but I have seen him in person. And I really like Dr. Pozzi. "Dr. Pozzi at Home" (1881) John Singer Sargent, which is at the Armand Hammer Museum.
And the Master is just one of my personal favorites. Rembrandt painted people's true nature. Sargent, the "ideal." Velasquez, something rather different.
In my words, Innocent - was not. "Portrait of Pope Innocent X" (1650) by Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velasquez.
And Francis Bacon saw it. "Study after Velasquez' Portrait of Innocent X" (1953) Francis Bacon.
"Girl With a Pearl Earring" (1665-67) Jan Vermeer.
By the way, I believe that Rembrandt and Sargent were without a doubt empaths. Velasquez - perhaps a wounded one.